COMMISSION: NO MORE FREE RIDE FOR YOU
By Chris Hamilton, Tuesday, May 5, 2020; 7:30 pm
With only Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley voting NO, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to impose a $1.00 boarding fee for visitors using the City’s Duval Loop. While not in the published reports, Commissioners had been swayed by the City Manager and Transit Director (IMHO laughable) estimates that the new fee could bring in an estimated $380,000 per year – covering half the cost of running the Loop. Commissioner Weekly was able to get an amendment attached that this issue would be revisited within six months of the service’s restart. All the Commissioners expect Mr. Wardlow voted with that change. So at least we have another try in six months.
This is terribly disappointing news for all the reasons we’ve previously reported. As the Mayor and Commissioner Weekley both noted, there had never been so many people that had used the City’s online eComment to voice their opinion on an agenda item before tonight. All but one of the 28 online written comments opposed the new fare. Despite the unprecedented outpouring against the action, a 5-2 majority voted not to care what the residents thought. (Note the eComments are posted here at the end of the story.)
Both Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley were passionate in their defense of leaving it alone. Mr. Weekley cited the Loop’s success in encouraging visitors to drive less and leave coveted parking spots for locals. Mr. Kaufman also citing the Loop’s amazing success, questioned the timing, asking “What’s the urgency of making this decision now instead of during the budget process. I’d rather talk about the whole transit budget at the same time, why tonight?” In response the City Manager said:
“As you know Commissioner we started the budgetary process yesterday. You know we’re trying, there are so many unknowns in this budget process. I’m like, even this one, we can project a certain amount of money that we anticipate this generating over the rest of this fiscal year and into next fiscal year, but at this point everything’s a guess, we have no idea what sales taxes are gonna be, we have no idea how our tourism economy is going to rebound, there are, yesterday, we are cutting and we’re gonna be and I’ve never been through a budget like this and I’ve sat through a lot of budgets. We’re gonna, our number one goal is to come in as lean as we possibly can and identify as many potential revenue sources as we can. And when talking about what transit looks like going into the future, this obviously came to the forefront, and we thought we’d bring it before you, so I can’t sit here and guarantee you that its gonna generate $380,000, I can’t guarantee its gonna generate $80, its just something we’re looking at as a potential source of revenue going into this year when revenues are going to be really lean and costs are going to be even leaner.”
Mr. Kaufman cautioned that altering the service “could have bigger consequences than we’re thinking about right now.” He also offered that if there’s a decline in ridership and the service is perceived as less successful it will make it that much harder to change other city routes in the future.
Both Commissioners Hoover and Davila seemed to only want to do this as a temporary measure in tough times to help us get by right now. Mr. Davila pointed out he thinks all the bus routes should be free. Something Commissioner Kaufman echoed.
Commissioner Lopez simply said he didn’t see anything wrong with approving it on visitors and didn’t seem as though he’d thought any of this through except that the City Manager asked for it.. The Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,” and then voted for the change.
So despite the outpouring of citizen opposition and despite the fact the business and lodging community who depend on it and haven’t been around to participate in the decision, the Commission seemed to want to do something, anything, well, because “unprecedented times” and grab some revenue and perhaps seem like they are doing something. I suppose with everything going on we can expect that. But we have to hope our elected officials don’t succumb to doing things that will hurt our future in the name of expediency because of the Coronavirus. We need to be able to have our eye on the future as we deal with realities today.
By the way, we promise to come back with an article in the future showing how ludicrous that $380,000 revenue projection is. This number seemingly come via 410,000 riders and estimates that 80% of those are visitors, who will then pay $1 for the service.
Tonight’s decision is penny wise and pound foolish. So much for a more walk, bike, transit friendly downtown. At least for now….
Below are screen captures of the record number of eComments that citizens made opposing the new fare. The screen capture was taken Tuesday afternoon and the comments are no longer available on the City’s web site: